By Kate Atkinson
Published September 2022
Set during the Jazz Age in London, this novel is ostensibly about Nellie Coker, the Grand Dame of the Soho nightclub scene. Recently released from jail, Nellie is immediately set upon by competition wanting to steal her kingdom, a kingdom she’s trying to hold together for her five children. But her past is also catching up to her and she might not be able to hang on, especially with a new Chief Inspector after her.
So while this book is about Nellie, it’s also about the Chief Inspector, a librarian turned spy turned nightclub manager, and a runaway teenager determined to make it big as an actress. In a nutshell, there’s a lot going on in these pages.
Almost too much going on. The first several pages feature a crowd’s reaction to Nellie being released from prison. My first thought was, “This is amazing scene setting!” My second thought was, “Oh, look at that head hopping.” I think the book was going for an omni point of view, but what the reader got was a lot of fruitless head hopping into characters that ultimately never really played a role in any of the main story lines. And there was A LOT happening in this book. So much so that at least two of Nellie’s children could have been cut (and possibly most of the story about the runaway teenagers) and I don’t think the story would have suffered for it.
I will say that the historic detail and flavor of the novel was amazing. Definitely the vibe I want in a historical fiction novel set in the mid-1920s. But so much felt like a distraction and it took me so long to latch onto one story line that honestly, I nearly gave up on it. But I got interested in Niven and Gwendolyn and wanted to see where their acquaintance went. Plus I really liked Gwendolyn’s character, so I kept at it. In the end, I was disappointed because the author left me hanging on what became of them.
In the end, this novel encompasses Kate Atkinson’s flair for detail and wry humor, but afterwards, I felt like I ate one too many pieces of cake. I liked it, but it was a little too much.
3/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
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